Five GPS games to play with your smartphone

26 Feb 2010

Use your phone's sat-nav system to hunt down prizes and more, with our guide to real-world GPS games

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done with your phone? Rang your mum to wish her happy birthday? If your handset doesn’t get you out and about, tramping through mud, climbing over styles and hunting for hidden treasure, then something needs an upgrade. Your phone, your life, or maybe both.

The iPhone, Blackberry’s Storm and Bold lines, and many Symbian and Android handsets now sport GPS, which makes your smartphone the ticket to join a global movement of outdoor games.

These are outbound challenges that pit teams and solo players against themselves and each other in the search for hidden treasure, undiscovered landmarks and hidden spots all over the world.

Geocaching, by far the most popular, is a massive underground game being played all around you. Every day, wherever you live or work, you are sure to walk past, over or under the clues and caches with which its players conduct their business.

Here we lift the lid on this and four other smartphone-friendly real-world games, each of which is a bridge between the online and offline worlds.

And next week, we'll launch PC Pro’s own smartphone treasure hunt, in which you can uncover our stash of free magazine subscriptions for you or your friends.

1. Geocaching

This is the king of smartphone games. Gamers have hidden close to a million caches around the world and posted clues and coordinates for each of them at geocaching.com. Some are lunchboxes or ammunition tins filled with treasure and trinkets. Others are tiny paper slips rolled up in the head of a screw on the back of a road sign.

Geocache

Your task is to uncover them by downloading the coordinates and following the clues. When you find one, you take whatever contents you want and replace them with some of your own, then sign the paper and log your visit online.

With 55,088 caches in the UK alone – and that number grows by the day – nobody lives far from their local neighbourhood stash. City dwellers are spoilt for choice (there are 869 caches with a 10 mile radius of PC Pro’s central London office, for instance) but the real fun comes when you take advantage of your smartphone’s diminutive size and weight and head out into the country for a day-long treasure hunting trek through fields and woods.

You can find caches using nothing but your phone’s built-in GPS, but applications such as Blackstar for Blackberry, Geobeagle for Android and either Geocaching or Geocaching Intro from the iPhone App Store simplify the task of locating and logging your finds.

2. Geodashing

Geodashing is all about points, not prizes. Playing alone or in teams of five, the aim is to visit as many randomly selected locations as you can, each of which is picked by the Geodashing computer.

If you get with 100 metres of that a location, you score a find, but only if you can describe it in enough detail to prove you’ve been there – or, better still, post a photo. Each round of the game is open for a limited period, and Dashpoints visited outside of that time don’t count. The twist is that some locations – random points in the middle of an airbase or the ocean, for example – will be beyond the reach of almost all players. Visit the Geodashing website to join in the fun.

3. Waymarking

Totem poles in Essex, a ghost cafe in central London, a pet cemetery in Surrey... Waymarking is 21st century scavenger hunting, and the best way to find interesting places and unusual objects that you probably haven’t noticed before.

Waymarking.com lists 229,982 sites around the world that its users have marked as notable, with more than 15,000 in the UK. Each is logged with a photo, coordinates and a description of its stand-out features.

While Geocaching is all about heading out to find hidden treasure, Waymarking calls on your smartphone’s native GPS tools to help you learn more about your local area. You don’t need to install any specific software, and it’s surprising what it turns up.

Tap in your postcode at waymarking.com to see what you’ve been missing and, if you’re looking for somewhere to walk this weekend, subscribe to its RSS feed for a stream of the latest additions to its global database.

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